University of Tasmania
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Child protection practice : an unintended casualty of reform

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posted on 2023-05-28, 10:04 authored by Kemp, AP
Child protection services are ensnared in a cycle comprised of crisis, leading to promises to 'fix the broken system' followed by another crisis. These cycles routinely identify the need for systemic, organisational and operational improvements, and increasingly they confirm the centrality of quality applied practice in improving the safety and wellbeing outcomes of children at risk of harm. However, a major disjuncture exists between the promise of reform, and the implementation realities for practice and practitioners. What eventuates is a reform program which not only fails to address identified practice challenges, but appears to degrade practice even further. As a result, children's safety is further compromised. Whilst theoretical narratives offer insights as to why such paradoxes occur, their explanatory power falls short when applied to understanding how well-intentioned reforms produce such deleterious consequences for practice. Using a case study design, this research examines the experiences of child protection practitioners engaged in a current reform in Australia, exploring how that reform was impacting on their experience of, and ability to engage in, meaningful practice. What these practitioners revealed was that the reform was having a detrimental impact on their practice. Their experiences were then viewed through the prism of Sam D Sieber's framework of 'regression' and 'conversion mechanisms' contained in his book Fatal remedies (1981) in order to explore how this framework might shed new light on such paradoxical outcomes, and whether these practitioner insights might offer new opportunities to strengthen Sieber's framework. By becoming more attuned to the regressive potential of reforms on practice, we may be better able to understand, identify and predict activities which cause this disruption. The research will propose preventative opportunities for future reform efforts so as to improve the ability of reforms to safeguard the most vulnerable children.


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Copyright 2019 the author

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